It was a dilemma I had never intended to face. There were plenty of us around, then there was one. I wasn’t short enough to be Asian, tall enough to be Sudanese, and my Caucasian face didn’t look even remotely Chinese.
I stopped at a dirty puddle and washed my face with it. It looked bad when it was wet, and even worse when it began drying, like some kind of mold or something. Then it began cracking and falling off. Boy did that send the people screaming away.
I washed it off and received only stares that turned away after a short time. I looked behind me to see if they were turning around once they were out of my sight, but I didn’t catch anyone looking back. I almost hurt my neck trying to spin around so quickly.
As I was rubbing my neck with one arm high in the air, and blinding me to that side, I bumped a ladder with the elbow that was in the air. A cool bath of red paint rained down on me, covering my face from forehead to chin.
I looked in the glass of the storefront as I was being screamed at by a tall guy who had been doing the painting. Ignoring his chastisement, I observed my reddened face for the change I hoped to find. I didn’t look anything like a native American Indian. My skin was a little too red. It didn’t help that my hair was naturally the same color either.
After calming down, he offered me some clear liquid to wash off the paint. I doused the white rag with it and plastered it over my face. I kept my eyes closed out of common sense, and rubbed lightly while wiping down towards my chin.
Most of it came off with the first dose, and I touched up any spots remaining while the rest of my skin turned red from the paint thinner. After scrubbing with it a little bit harder and getting the paint off, those spots were even redder and began peeling almost immediately.
I looked in the window once again to verify that I had all of the color off, and was disillusioned at the splotchy red face with areas of white flakes that were peeling as I watched. I handed back the bottle of thinner to the skinny man with the look of shock on his face. I don’t believe he thought I should’ve used it directly on my face the way I had. I thanked him, but he was speechless.
I made the mistake of walking right into the direct sunlight. It burned like the thinner never had by itself. I turned my back to it, the pain of its heat felt like sharp black daggers poking at me endlessly in every pore. I ducked into the nearest storefront nearly screaming.
By chance it was a beauty salon, or close to it. They did fingernails, toenails, and a few hair styles. But they did have a large supply of skin treatment on hand. The women there coated my face as quickly as they could get me into a chair and mix up the poultice. They had to stand on the ring at the bottom of the chair in order to reach my face, but they took turns jumping up and down on it and applying their handful of the stuff before going back to the counter for another handful.
I walked out of that place feeling much better, and much thicker. I discovered later that they had applied a solid of inch of goop to my face. As I passed the mirrors in the store on the way out, I noticed that I was now an off white color, which I was assured would turn whiter as it dried. I figured about an hour for that to take place, judging by its thickness.
Unlike the mud which was thin and began drying almost immediately, this became splotchy as the different mixtures they had put together dried at different rates. I had brownish patches, dim white areas, and a very white area that had dried first.
In the middle of this mess were a pair of very red eyes, surrounded by very red skin. They had put some sort of jelly or lubricant around the eyes since they couldn’t apply the plaster there, unless I wanted to walk around blind. I almost told them to go ahead, thinking about the pain I was in, and the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see the different colors of skin that would face me as I walked on through the town.
I sat in the corner of a restaurant, embarrassed at what I looked like. I remembered seeing some ancient African or South American tribe that encased their heads in mud, in fact I think they were called “The Mud Men”. Anyway, I felt like people were calling me that behind my back and ducked into the food place to hide in the dark.
At first I thought my face was darkened and nearly invisible in the corner of the dark business, but as my eyes adapted to the lack of light, my face lightened and became white once again. I grumbled about being white when the darker skinned man caught on to what I was complaining about.
“Why you come in here with that on your face?” he asked, with a bit of anger showing in his eyes. He leaned forward a little bit longer than necessary as he dropped the plate of pie and a cup of coffee near me. He backed off with a look of disgust on his face, his hands turned to fists down at his sides. I was pretty sure he was angry at me for trying to change my skin color or something.
I began picking at my mask until a chunk of it fell into my soup bowl. It was good soup, but I could barely move my lips, and I certainly couldn’t open my mouth enough to insert the spoon into it. I had tipped the spoon and poured a little of it down my tongue. He delivered the pie when he saw I wasn’t eating the soup. I wasn’t going to have any luck eating that either, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. Maybe he thought I didn’t like his food instead of being angered by the mud on my face. “He shouldn’t have jumped to that conclusion.” I thought to himself.
Anyway, when the chunk landed in the soup, it splashed everything with pea soup. A sickly green blob landed on my white T-shirt and ran down. It was a disgusting looking green smear. Now that the soup was ruined, I picked off another chunk from my face and dropped it into the bowl. Soon it began changing the color to a lighter green, then it began turning blue, streaks of both colors mixing and swirling in the bowl with each additional chunk of white was dropped into it.
“What the hell you trying to pull white boy?” the cook nearly yelled when half of my face was exposed. The goop had worked and my face, now nearly shiny white instead of the reddened skin that had been under it. “You smarting off to me?” he asked with much more anger than before. “I’m getting my cleaver and we are going to see some nice red blood.” He threatened me, then turned to enter the kitchen. His counter was also spattered with various colors.
I grabbed the edge of the mask on the forehead above the nose and pushed. It sucked my skin out as the whole side of the face came off at once. I even heard the suction as it separated from my skin. I dropped it on the counter and ran out of the door. It was still rattling and spinning as the door closed behind me.
I touched my face carefully, seeing if it was still sore and tender or not. It felt pretty good, and no blood came off on my fingertips. I dropped my hand to my throat, thinking of the near decapitation I had almost encountered. White skin or not, I would rather not have it separated from the rest of my body.
Going into a restroom because I felt like a slob with a dirty green and white shirt, I hoped to wash it off, back to its normal color. I was once again shocked when I saw my face in the mirror. Instead of the pasty white color I was used to, it was now an iridescent, nearly pearly white. I looked like one of those statues in a museum. The shirt didn’t fare much better, turning the dark green spot into a much larger, and only slightly lighter green spot.
I walked in shame back to my apartment. I ducked into darkened areas under awnings, waited to cross streets until all the traffic had passed by, and even turned around once when a fat, short woman came around a corner unexpectedly and surprised me. I stopped in my tracks and pretended to read a poster about a bunch of clowns appearing in a circus nearby. I shook my head to believe that people were going to pay to see a bunch of people paint their faces different colors and prance around under bright lights.
I sulked back to the apartment, went past the green walls of the living room, the blue hallway, and the beige walled bedroom, then went into the pink bathroom. I stared into the mirror, thinking of a gushing red throat. I never wanted to be the last white man anyway.
Having a flash of inspiration, I wondered if I could become the last white woman in the world instead. Make up could cover up anything, or so I was told.